Quote of the Week | Jane Austen

On this day in 1811, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was published in three volumes by Thomas Egerton. The book’s initial print run was 750 copies. It sold out within the year.

This illustration is from Chapter 46 of Sense and Sensibility. The caption for the picture is “Colonel Brandon was invited to visit her.”

Austen paid for the novel’s printing and advertising herself, in addition to paying the publisher a commission. She entered the arrangement boldly – it was, after all, a financial risk for a young, unmarried woman – but Austen’s tenacity was rewarded. The novel turned a profit. In 1811, while correcting proofs, Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra and said: “I am never too busy to think of S & S. I can no more forget it than a mother can forget her suckling child.” To her brother, she wrote: “You will be glad to hear that every Copy of S & S is sold…I have now therefore written myself into £250 – which only makes me long for more.”

Austen started the book – initially envisioned as an epistolary novel, or a story told through a series of letters – in 1795 when she was 19 years old. She called it Elinor and Marianne, after the novel’s two main characters. In 1797, Austen’s father offered the book to a London publisher, but his package was returned unopened – no one had bothered to read it. Undeterred, Austen went about revising the novel, once in 1797/98 and again in 1809/10.

To mark the anniversary of one of Austin’s greatest novels, today’s Quote of the Week features the woman remembered for her “insightful observation, astute characterization, and dazzling wit.”

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen
“His errand at Barton…was a simple one. It was only to ask Elinor to marry him.” London: George Allen, 1899.

Egerton, pleased by Sense & Sensibility’s success, would go on to publish Pride and Prejudice in 1813 and Mansfield Park in 1814. Austen’s remaining novels, Emma, Persuasion, and Northanger Abbey, however, would be published by John Murray – one of the most famous publishers in the history of the industry. In his prime, Murray worked with authors like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lord Byron, Herman Melville, and Charles Darwin. His company, John Murray, is the oldest publishing house in the UK and today a part of Hachette.

According to Brittanica, the “years after 1811 seem to have been the most rewarding of [Austen’s] life. She had the satisfaction of seeing her work in print and well reviewed and of knowing that the novels were widely read. They were so much enjoyed by the prince regent (later George IV) that he had a set in each of his residences, and Emma, at a discreet royal command, was ‘respectfully dedicated’ to him. The reviewers praised the novels for their morality and entertainment, admired the character drawing, and welcomed the domestic realism as a refreshing change from the romantic melodrama then in vogue.”

Austen continued to write until the end of her life. Her last known work (unfinished) is called Sanditon, characterized by The New Yorker as a “robust, unsparing portrait of human foolishness.” She penned the novel while suffering from what today is believed to be Addison disease, a “rare disorder defined by the destruction of the outer layer of the adrenal glands.” She died on July 18, 1817 in Hampshire, and was buried six days later in Winchester Cathedral.

Still curious? Watch the trailer for the 1998 film starring Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant.